Racial ideas that the Nazi’s had. Had they invented themselves?
The Nazi regime attempted, in an unprecedented manner, to establish a system of rule based upon race. Their goal was a radical reshaping of existing society into a racially homogenous, ‘Aryan’ national community (Volksgemeinschaft). The racial homogeneity they desired could only be created negatively, through discrimination, exclusion and eradication – and ultimately by killing those who did not fit into their perfect ‘Aryan’ society. However the roots of Nazism has its foundations in 19th century discourse. Towards the end of the 19th century biology and medical science was coming to the fore. This is connected to huge medical advancements such as finding the TB bacteria etc. Scientific race theories were developing from the 19th century and would have a huge impact on the Nazi party.
Over the last fifteen to twenty years, an increasingly rich and diverse scholarship has identified the importance of racial thought in shaping the policy and practice of the Third Reich. Historians of diverse forms of social policy have emphasized the degree to which racial conceptions and categories came to complement or supplant existing norms and models. The attention devoted to racial categories has also opened up awareness of different kinds of victims, most notably the mentally and physically handicapped and those who had “asocial” behaviour that the Nazis ascribed to an innate weaknesses that threatened to undermine the Aryan race. These included, on the one hand, members of their own ‘Aryan race’ who they considered weak or wayward (such as the ‘congenitally sick’, the ‘asocial’, and homosexuals), and on the other those who were defined as belonging to ‘foreign races’.
The 19th century saw a shift from religious anti-Semiticism with economic overtones towards a racial anti-Semiticism which was actually coupled with strong economic overtones. There are two reasons for this radical shift. This new discourse of race can be put down to the coming to predominance of biology; in the 18th century philosophy was at the forefront the early 19th century history was at the fore. Now at the end of the 19th century medical science was at the fore. By the start of the early 20th century a new type of racial anti-Semitism developed. People like Chamberlain argued that Jesus was actually Aryan which would take away Jesus Jewish roots as the Nazi’s considered the Jews to be their chief enemy. They were represented by the National Socialists as an ‘anti-race’ that had come into being through negative selection and that had, through assimilation, deeply penetrated the German ‘national body’. The goal of the Jews, according to the Nazis, was to prevent the construction of the national community the Nazis were striving for. This anti-Semitism was able to build on a centuries-old Christian hostility to Jews that had, over time, become a social convention. It is also import to note that ‘Gypsies’, including Roma and Sinti, were also viewed by the Nazis as a dangerous ‘foreign’ race.
Due to the emancipation of Jews in most European states would bring about Jewish assimilation and in turn brought about for many Jews economic success. Historically speaking they had been forced into traders, banking etc. This was a perfect situation for creating a Jewish middleclass or bourgeois. Jews were a highly urban phenomenon society. The first department stores were owned by Jews, this would give rise to ‘they are not good for local business. This gave rise to the rumour that a worldwide Jewish conspiracy existed. All of this led to a strong economic anti-Semiticism which would lead to a social anti-Semiticism which the Nazi’s would capitalize on. The important point is that Anti- Semiticism existed throughout Europe before the Nazi’s came to power.
The original 19th-century and early 20th-century use of the term Aryan referred to “the early Europeans and their descendents”. Max Müller is often identified as the first writer to speak of an Aryan “race“. He referred to Aryans as a “race of people”. At the time, the term race had the meaning of “a group of tribes or peoples, an ethnic group”. Müller’s statement was interpreted to imply a biologically distinct sub-group of humanity, but he soon clarified that he simply meant a line of descent. He said ‘It would be wrong to speak of Aryan blood’ Müller was responding to the development of racial anthropology, and the influence of the work of Arthur de Gobineau who argued that the Aryans represented a superior branch of humanity. A number of later writers, such as the French anthropologist Vacher de Lapouge, argued that this superior branch could be identified biologically by measuring head shape and other indicators. He argued that the long-headed “dolichocephalic-blond” Europeans, were natural leaders, destined to rule over more short headed peoples. Other anthropologists contested such claims. In Germany, Rudolf Virchow launched a study which prompted him to denounce these ‘long headed claims. Josef Kollmann, a collaborator of Virchow, stated in a congress that the people of Europe, be they English, German, French, and Spaniard belonged to a “mixture of various races. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a strong supporter of the theory of a superior Aryan race, attacked Josef Kollmann arguments in detail.
The Nazi party was not the first party or indeed the only party with anti-Semitic feelings. Similar party’s had existed both in Germany and in Europe before the war. Years earlier a French writer by the name of Dromont wrote a book attacking the role of Jews in France, and he argued for their exclusion from society. A Race discourse really came to the fore at the end of the 19th century. Race: Was not just German or French phenomenon, Britain had Robert Knox famous Scottish anatomist, ‘race is everything civilization depends on it’. In the University College London there was an American lecturer called Stoddard, who would speak of Asian Negros etc as barbaric stock, and he would propagate segregation of all defected races. After the First World War, these ideas were given considerable salience by the tract ‘The permission for the destruction of life unworthy of life’. It is certain that while in prison Hitler read at least some texts on racial hygiene papers and it would become a major component of the Reich.
Sterilization was not a German or indeed a Nazi phenomenon, in the early years of the Reich sterilization although carried out in greater numbers than anywhere else, was not even primarily racial in character in the sense of being based on the identification of inferior races, the people who were being sterilized were usually Aryan Germans. These were being sterilized for reasons not much different from those given by Swedish and other European and indeed American authorities at that time. The real difference would emerge much later, when the war broke out, as the Nazi’s turned from sterilizing social deviants to murdering them, and sterilization was extended on a racial basis.
Racial hygienists greeted the coming of the third Reich with unalloyed anticipation. There had been a campaign since to 1980’s for social policies that would improve race, at the centre of their campaign was those who were criminal, idle, degenerate or insane and it was argued that these people should be removed from heredity. Hitler had read racial hygiene books while in prison and believed that Germany could only succeed if he applied racial hygiene to German society, as the nation had been corrupted by the impure degenerates. The strong and pure had to be encouraged to have more children while the weak and degenerates had to be neutralized one way or another. By the time the Nazi’s came to power an eliminationist variant anti-Semiticism existed throughout Europe, but especially in Germany, which called for the elimination of Jewish influence or of the Jews themselves from German society. When the Nazi’s came to power they found themselves the masters of a society already imbued with notions about Jews, and were ready to be mobilized for the most extreme forms of action.